A Short Story by Arthur Daigle
Blowback the goblin threw himself to the dirt floor of his house when the front door was smashed in. He scrambled back as the human (it had to be a human) knelt down and forced his way in, knocking over furniture Blowback had built or liberated over the years. Cheap, flimsy chairs broke. His favorite and only table lost three legs, and the fourth one looked iffy. Blowback’s collection of wigs went next, kicked into the fireplace where they burst into flames. Note to self: keep oiled wigs away from open fire.
Terrified and wigless, Blowback ran for the back door. He’d nearly reached it when the human swung his sword and got it stuck in the nearest wall. It was lodged in good, and Blowback watched the human try to pull it out. One try, two tries, nothing, and on the third attempt the sword came out so suddenly that the man lost his balance and banged his head on the ceiling. He dropped to his knees, clutching his head with both hands.
Still standing by the back door, Blowback watched the invader groaning on his floor. “That looked painful.”
The human whimpered and tried to get up, then crumpled back to the floor. With the threat to his life temporarily over, Blowback studied his invader. He was a human, all right, male, youngish, dressed in leather armor and a heavy winter cloak. The man had lost his broad brimmed hat when he hit his head, showing messy brown hair with a generous helping of dandruff. His weapon was a short sword, well suited for tight quarters and showing a fair number of nicks.
Blowback had never seen the man before today. Was he a brigand? There were some on the roads these days, and winter was making them desperate. Had someone hired a cut-rate goblin hunter? That seemed more likely since brigands usually worked in groups.
Keeping well back in case of trouble, Blowback said, “Hi. I don’t think we’ve met.”
“What?” the man asked. He sounded irritable, as people who’ve rammed their heads into solid objects often do.
“My name is Blowback,” the goblin told his guest/assailant. Blowback was short, bald, and had wrinkly pale blue skin. This would be abnormal for most races, but goblin skin colors covered the rainbow, and several colors that had no place on it. His clothes were raggedy leather garments discarded long ago by a boy who’d outgrown them. Blowback was unarmed but had a few daggers and short clubs within easy reach. Even with weapons nearby, he far preferred running from conflicts rather than fighting. The small and weak know how such battles usually end. “Who are you?”
The man struggled to his knees. “Ofenos. Oh, that hurts.”
“Nice to meet you, Ofenos. It would be nicer if you hadn’t busted up my house. Is this about that chicken, because I apologized yesterday.”
Ofenos rubbed his bruised head. “Chicken? You stole a chicken?”
“Stole is such an ugly word,” Blowback said casually. “The chicken was a poor guest, so I returned it. The farmer was so grateful to get it back that it’s currently boiling in a soup. Farmers and livestock have a curious relationship.”
“Right, no chicken,” Ofenos muttered. He regained his earlier bravado and pointed his sword at Blowback. “Dinner is off, so let’s move on to dessert. Hand over your treasure or die here and now.”
“Treasure?” Blowback looked around his home. It was a single room twenty feet across and four feet high, dug into the side of a hill. The floor was packed dirt, while the walls and ceiling were reinforced with scrap lumber. His stone fireplace was small and barely warmed the house in such cold weather. He liked his house, but among other races it would be considered abject poverty.
“Gold, coins, gems, furs!”
“I think you hit your head a tad harder than is normally considered healthy. I’m a goblin, a race known for setting traps, causing mischief and otherwise being pests. Money and goblins seldom cross paths and never for long.”
“Don’t give me that!” Ofenos’ tone was a warning, and he edged closer to the goblin. “Goblins steal. You steal chickens.”
“I was offering it asylum. You’d think it would be grateful after what happened to the other chickens, but I turned it over to the authorities after what it did to my bed. Can we get back to this treasure misconception?”
Ofenos recovered his hat and put it on. “Look, cretin, I’m in a foul mood, I have an empty belly and emptier coin pouch. Mock me, lie to me or try to trick me, and so help me blood will flow this night. I’m giving you more chances than I should given what your foul kind has done.”
Reason wasn’t working, so Blowback fell back on the ancient goblin tradition of being obnoxious. “Excuse me, but there’s a door, table and three chairs in pieces, which kind of suggests who the troublemaker is here! Did you knock, because I didn’t hear a knock before you came in like a drunken ram! How’s your head?”
“Getting better. I don’t think there’s any bleeding. It’s a known fact that monsters living at the edge of civilized lands raid towns. You’re close enough to the town of Ethos that you could spit on it, so I know you’ve been looting their homes.”
Blowback grabbed a broken chair leg and jabbed it at the fireplace. His wigs had landed in it during the initial attack, and were replaced by ashes. “Yeah, I’ve been there, and you just torched my ‘loot’, Chucko! I had three very nice wigs to keep my head warm. It’s mighty cold outside, and thanks to you I’ve got nothing to put on my head.”
Ofenos folded his arms across his chest. “Don’t give me that load of bull plop! Am I supposed to believe you’d steal wigs and pass up gold and gems?”
Blowback rolled his eyes. “Have you been in Ethos? Not walked through it, I mean been in people’s houses. Last summer’s harvest was confiscated to feed the army. All of it! Men are so hungry they’re foraging in the wilderness for small game. They’re eating ground squirrels, which are admittedly pretty tasty, but they’re still rodents! Men with gold don’t eat rodents!”
“I don’t believe you.”
“Fine.” Blowback tossed aside the chair leg and marched out of his house.
“Where are you going?” Ofenos demanded.
“Outside! You think there’s money in my house? Good luck finding it.”
Blowback went out the door and came onto the side of the hill. It was dusk and cold and snowing a bit, little flakes that never add up to much. He stuffed his hands into his pockets to keep warm while Ofenos ransacked his house for treasure that wasn’t there. It was humiliating.
It also left him looking at the town of Ethos. Cooking fires burned at every house as men and women ate whatever scraps of food they could collect. A few men were still returning from distant fields and streams with snared birds, small mammals, the occasional fish and a few freshwater clams. Hunger had made them desperate, and for the first time in living memory they were competing with goblins for food.
Two more goblins hurried over. A red hued goblin with orange hair asked, “What happened? We heard a crash.”
Blowback pointed at his ruined door. “There’s a human in there trying to rob me. He thinks I have money.”
The red goblin scratched his head. “So…he’s an idiot.”
The second goblin was so covered in mismatched clothes that he had no exposed skin. He coughed up a hairball and asked, “Where’d he get a fool idea like that?”
“We rob humans, don’t you know,” Blowback said sarcastically. “It’s common knowledge, which makes me think ignorance is a virtue.”
“I’m surprised he found you,” the red goblin said. “Your front door was well camouflaged.”
“I’m surprised he didn’t leave a trail of breadcrumbs,” Blowback retorted. A broken chair came sailing out the front door to land in the thin dusting of snow. He watched it tumble down the hill and into the side of a peasant’s house. “I liked that chair. It was my favorite.”
Looking merry, the red goblin offered, “It wouldn’t be much work to bring the ceiling down on him.”
“And bury the few things I own he hasn’t smashed?” Blowback asked. “Have either of you got a wig to spare? I lost mine.”
The second goblin coughed up some yarn and shook his head. “Sorry. Is he going to attack everyone’s house? It’s bad enough you losing everything without the rest of us doing it.”
Blowback shrugged. “I don’t know. I’m not even sure why he’s doing it. I’ve never seen the guy before tonight. Maybe he’s just that poor and is wandering around looking for scraps. Lots of people are doing that. No joke, I saw a woman going through the mayor’s garbage before I got there. She didn’t leave me much.”
“It doesn’t bode well, and there’s another month until spring,” the red goblin said. “What if we smoked him out? Okay, your expression tells me the answer is no, but we could at least run in there and steal his pants. Come on, you got to teach him a lesson or he’ll do it again.”
Blowback’s attention returned to the town. Most of the houses were small and made of thatch. Most, but not all. The mayor’s residence was a large stone building, and ground squirrels were never part of his menu. Goblins were as a rule troublesome, ever ready to cause chaos, and after a night like this Blowback was ready to spread the misfortune to someone who deserved it.
Ofenos crawled out of Blowback’s house. The man was dirty and looked angry and confused. “I don’t get it. The adventurers’ guild told me there was money to be had in the countryside. Bounties, monsters, treasures to discover, but there’s nothing here.”
“You’re an adventurer?” Blowback asked.
“And an experienced one!” the man yelled back. Distant men heard him and hurried off. They’d caught some food and weren’t keen on being robbed. Getting louder and attracting even more attention, Ofenos added, “I’ve guarded caravans, protected important people, hunted devil rats—”
“And after all that you thought goblins had money,” Blowback interrupted. He saw Ofenos look at the two new goblins. Eager to forestall another mugging, he said, “They don’t have money, either.”
“Where would we have gotten this bonanza?” the red goblin asked. He pointed at the town and added, “Seriously, you have to know it wasn’t from there.”
“I don’t know, robbing travelers, digging up graves, eating adventurers,” Ofenos replied.
Blowback covered his face with one hand. “He thinks we eat people. Where are you getting this from? And I want names, not this ‘everybody knows’ nonsense! Some clod is telling gullible halfwits like you that we eat people, God only knows why when there are plenty of leather scraps at the tanners in town, and idiots are buying it! We have to put a stop to this before we invite people for dinner and they think they’re on the menu!”
Ofenos hesitated before asking, “You eat leather?”
“Among other things, none of which are people,” Blowback told him.
The second goblin coughed up a button. “Sorry. I’ve been trying to get that up all day.”
Ofenos looked miserable. He lifted his arms and let them drop to his sides. “This is impossible. It’s five days walk to the next town. What do I do if there’s no work there?”
“I’d be more worried about no food there,” the red goblin said.
“I’ve got debts!” Ofenos yelled. “Talfith Bank is going to send collection agents after me soon. Costing an arm and a leg isn’t a figure of speech with them.”
Feeling just a smidgen of sympathy, Blowback said, “Which explains why you need money so bad. The way I see it, you need cash and I need you out of my life. Fortunately I see a solution to both our problems.”
Ofenos’ jaw dropped. “You do? Where?”
“Come on. You guys come, too.”
Blowback led Ofenos and the two goblins into town. Goblins and strangers with swords would normally attract attention from the authorities. Tonight, however, they had the streets to themselves. It was dark and cold, and every door in town was locked and barred by frightened residents. The men and women had eked out just enough food to keep them alive for another day, and they weren’t going to risk losing it to thieves or monsters.
They reached the mayor’s house, a stone building two stories high and large enough for fifty people. This was a curious state given only eight humans lived there. Smoke rose from the chimney and carried the scent of roasting pork. The windows were closed but not shuttered, and light streamed out onto the snowy streets.
“This is the home of Mayor Cathem,” Blowback explained. “He’s the king’s representative in these parts and responsible for maintaining order and collecting taxes.”
“And he’ll hire me?” Ofenos asked.
Blowback frowned. Ofenos wasn’t connecting the dots and would need a hand. “No. Those taxes I mentioned were collected at knifepoint earlier this month and stored in a steel lockbox, about a foot long, half as wide and three inches deep. Royal tax collectors don’t come to town until spring, which gives the mayor plenty of time to skim off a percentage for himself like he does every year. You want gold? There it is.”
Ofenos took a step back. “Wait a minute! I’m an adventurer, not a thief!”
“I’m not seeing much of a difference after you tried to rob me earlier,” Blowback replied.
“It’s simple,” Ofenos said. “Rob a goblin, a monster, a criminal or some jabbering foreigner and no one cares. Some folks will even thank you. Rob a mayor and you’re a thief. The world comes down on your head, with knights and bounty hunters and adventurers and soldiers. They won’t ask for the money back. They’ll kill you and take it off your body!”
Blowback rolled his eyes. “Amateurs. The authorities can only hunt you if they know who you are. You’re new in town or I would have seen you before tonight. If you cover up your face nobody can identify you, and if you run fast you can reach the nearest city with tens of thousands of people before anyone comes after you. Nobody’s going to find you, or even know who to look for.”
Pointing a sword at the house, Ofenos asked, “That man is going to have soldiers to uphold the law. I can take two to one odds and win, but I can’t fight an entire town’s worth of soldiers.”
“They’re busy,” Blowback said. “I paid the mayor a visit last night and trapped the toilet.”
The red goblin smiled and pointed at Blowback. “That was you?”
“Marvelous work!” the other goblin said, and shook Blowback’s hand.
“The point is, on the way out I made some passing references to living in Fenti Bog,” Blowback continued. “This morning the mayor sent his soldiers to said bog to find and kill me. They’re miles away and no doubt cold, wet and angry. So, no soldiers.”
Ofenos looked at the mayor’s house. “No soldiers.”
“No soldiers and one lockbox full of cash,” Blowback said. He went to the nearest window and waved for Ofenos to join him. “Look over there. Those are brass candlestick holders. Do you know how much those go for? No seriously, how much?”
“A couple silver pieces,” Ofenos told him. “You get more for silver candlestick holders, and way more for gold ones.”
“The point is those shiny beauties are the same as money. And I see silverware on the table, and the mayor has a gold ring. This house is like a giant treasure chest filled with goodies. I bet you could pay off your entire debt to Talfith Bank with what’s here. All you have to do is bust in there, like you did at my place, not ram your head into a wall or ceiling, grab the loot and run for it.”
Ofenos backed up. “I don’t know.”
“What else can you do?” Blowback asked. “You can walk for days with no food to the next town and hope they have work, or someone you can legally rob. You can wander around here looking for monsters with cash or treasure, except there aren’t any. The last monster in the area was a griffin with no money, no gems or artwork, just a bad disposition. The townspeople ate him. Or you can go to your bank and ask them to be reasonable, or at least merciful.”
That suggestion made Ofenos and all three goblins burst out laughing. When they finished wiping tears of laughter from their eyes, Blowback said, “I’ll grant you the last choice was a joke, but you’re out of options. Look at it this way; you’re only doing it once. Tell your friends you beat up a monster and found all that nice stuff. They’ll believe you, because they’re so mind bogglingly stupid that they think goblins eat people. Nobody will know except us, and who believes goblins? And later on, when legitimate work for adventurers come up, you can keep your mouth shut about this and take the job.”
“I, uh,” Ofenos stammered. He stared at the house, drooling at the scent of cooking food. He took a scarf from a pocket, wrapped it over his mouth, and headed for the door.
Then he knocked.
Blowback’s jaw dropped. The red goblin shook his head. The last goblin put a hand over his face. But to their collective amazement, the door opened.
“Huzza!” Ofenos ran in with his sword drawn. Men and women screamed. The goblins didn’t follow him in, instead waiting outside to watch the chaos in relative safety.
The red goblin looked at Blowback. “You talked an adventurer who wanted to kill you into becoming a bandit and robbing the mayor. That, sir, was some mighty fine work.”
“I am feeling a bit of pride right now,” Blowback admitted. He saw a chair fly through a window, sending glass shards and broken furniture across the street. “It’s actually kind of nice watching him happen to someone else.”
The other goblin picked up a broken chair leg and chewed on it. “He’s got a real talent for needless violence. He’s also as bright as a coal pile. I think that boy’s got a bright future ahead of him in politics.”
“Hey, wait a minute, there’s making fun of a guy and there’s being offensive,” Blowback said. Another window shattered, and they heard pottery breaking inside the house. “He’s sure taking his time.”
“He’s being thorough,” the red goblin replied. “I mean, if you’re going to do it, do it right.”
Moments later, Ofenos ran out of the mayor’s house with no one in pursuit. He had a bag filled with loot over his right shoulder, the lockbox under his left arm and a pork roast under the other. Breathless, he ran off into the night, never to be seen again.
* * * * *
The next morning was a time of confusion. Soldiers returned from Fenti Bog dirty, tired, dispirited and hungry. They were immediately sent out again, except they had no idea where they were going. Mayor Cathem’s steward called together the entire population of the town. These men and women frankly had better things to do in such harsh times, and it showed on their faces. Goblins gathered at the edge of the crowd to see what was going on, including Blowback.
Blowback still had to repair his house and replace destroyed furniture, no easy task for a small goblin. It could take weeks or longer, using time better spent trapping outhouses or painting caricatures of famous people on the sides of cows. Still, meetings like this could be entertaining provided he kept out of sight, so he waited for the show to start.
The steward rang a bell to get the people’s attention and then began to speak. “Good people of Ethos, last night the honorable Mayor Cathem was brutally attacked in his own home. The intruder did assault him, his servants and his cat. The intruder also stole goods valued at—”
Mayor Cathem, a short, man with long white hair and fresh bandages, tugged on his steward’s coat sleeve and whispered to him. The steward frowned and asked, “How will they know what to bring you if I don’t tell them what was stolen? Okay, okay, you’re the boss. The intruder stole goods of value from your mayor, goods that must be recovered in their entirety. Any citizen or visitor who captures the intruder or returns the goods will be rewarded with—”
Another whispered conversation followed. The steward spoke loud enough that the crowd could hear him, making for a one sided and embarrassing conversation. “Sir, you have to offer a reward in these situations. Because they’re risking their lives for you! No, I do understand, it’s just with a little work you can…fine. What if you offered a deferred reward, like reducing their taxes next year? It’s not insane! I just think…”
The steward looked like he was about to snap, and with the soldiers gone again no one was present to protect the mayor if that happened. But with a superhuman level of restraint, the steward held back his rage. “You will receive the mayor’s thanks for returning his stolen property. Thanks cannot be inferred to mean money, livestock, food, tools, kitchenware, land, reduced taxation or anything else you might actually want. That is all.”
Blowback noticed a total lack of enthusiasm among the crowd as they dispersed. They had another long day of foraging for food ahead of them, and with no incentive they had zero interest in hunting down an armed robber. The mayor and his steward shared harsh words before leaving. But as they walked away, Blowback saw the mayor’s hairline go up an inch until he pulled it back down.
“That’s not his real hair,” Blowback whispered. He grinned and rubbed his hands together. He’d lost a lot last night, including his three wigs, and it looked like the dear mayor would be helping the goblin rebuild.
About the Author
Arthur Daigle is the author (no jokes, please, he’s heard them all) of five books set on the world of Other Place. These include William Bradshaw King of the Goblins, William Bradshaw and a Faint Hope, William Bradshaw and War Unending, William Bradshaw and Fool’s Gold, and Goblin Stories. Expect serious issues drowning in a sea of silliness, mayhem and outright madness. See goblins, the perennial losers of fantasy novels and games, be put into positions of importance no matter how hard they try to avoid it. Feel free to come visit, but watch your step for trip lines and pie traps.
A blog about all things fantasy from the elements we all love to how to write it. Posts are from our very own Fellowship of Fantasy authors.